BY: MAURO AZZANO
You are a Toronto police detective, lying in the gutter, shot by the man you were pursuing, and your life is slipping slowly away.
The Dead Don’t Dream takes you back to the year 1973 and the world of Ian McBriar, a homicide police detective, as he investigates the brutal assault on two young boys, one of whom is the son of a local underworld figure. Haunted by the deaths he has investigated and the lives he has seen destroyed, Ian struggles with the memories that make him who he is.
When he gets too close to the truth, the killer makes a desperate strike, and Ian ends up face-down in the street. Can he survive his attack and track down the gunman before more lives are lost?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Dead Don’t Dream by Mauro Azzano, Canada Detective Ian McBriar is attempting to solve the brutal assault on two young boys, one of whom is the son of an organized crime boss. As Ian investigates, people start dying. A mentally handicapped witness gets assaulted. Finally, Ian himself ends up face down in the gutter with a bullet in his chest, fighting for his life. Interwoven in among the death and destruction is a sweet romance between Ian and Karen, a single mother with an adorable little boy.
I liked the characters. They seemed so human, not only the main characters, but the secondary characters as well. The story had a nice right of truth to it which means the author either did his homework or else he had police experience.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Dead Don’t Dream by Mauro Azzano is the first book in the Ian McBriar Murder Mystery series. In this book, Canadian police detective Ian McBriar runs afoul of a killer trying to eliminate the sons of the local organized crime chief. While investigating the attempted murder of the man’s youngest son, Ian begins to suspect the accidental death of the older boy in Italy the summer before was no accident. When he gets too close to the truth, Ian discovers that the killer will stop at nothing to achieve his goals, including murdering a police detective, mainly Ian himself.
The characters are enchanting, the storyline strong, with a few unexpected twists and turns. And the book is a page turner. I was riveted from page one to the very end. It’s not a book that you can easily put down at the end of a chapter.
There is a scene at the end of Sunset Boulevard where William Holden floats dead, face down in a swimming pool. I wondered how they filmed that scene. I was trying to figure out how long he held his breath.
I was lying in the gutter of a rainy Toronto street, trying to lift my face out of the water, with my groceries scattered beside me on the sidewalk.
The bullets in my chest made it hard to breathe. A streetcar clattered by, empty at this time of night. I was glad that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by being found this way, but irritated that nobody would likely come to help me.
Reflected in the slow-flowing stream I saw someone coming toward me, a gun in his hand. My own revolver was pinned under me, useless.
Three weeks earlier.
My bed is soaked in blood. There are deep slashes on my arms and legs and stomach.
I am still bleeding, and there’s not enough blood left inside me to breathe. Like a fish out of water, I suffocate, unable to take in enough air. I am too weak to get to the phone and my voice is too faint to call for help. In the distance I hear a fire bell.
I sit up and turn off my alarm clock. The fire bell fades. Six am: time to get up.
I tore the top page off the hall calendar. “Hello, March,” I mumbled. I pocketed my rosary beads and left the apartment.
Old shag carpet, covering the plank flooring, muffled my footsteps as I walked down the hallway. Hopping quickly down the stairs, I pressed my elbow against the revolver under my jacket, to keep it from jiggling. I braced myself for the cold blast and stepped out to the back lane. The recent snowfall had given way to freezing rain, leaving icy slush on the roads and a chill in the air. Now, at seven thirty in the morning, last night’s clear sky clouded over, and the low sun was just a haze in the southeast.
I shuffled cautiously to the garage. My “summer” car sat covered in a tarp, my unmarked cruiser beside it, dwarfing the little Fiat.
The Fury’s blue-green hood blended in with the morning sky. I fired up the V8 and waited for the windshield to clear. A minute later, I cruised up Silverthorn Avenue, past houses with bare trees–barren stucco without landscaping, and the odd corner store.
I turned north onto Keele Street, then into the driveway of a neat brick bungalow.
Short grass struggled to poke through the stubborn snow in one corner of the front lawn, while a plaster wishing well in the other corner waited patiently for someone to drop coins in. I stomped up the steps two at a time, knocked at the door and let myself in.
“Morning, Helen,” I sang. I wiped my shoes on the front mat.
A small, pretty woman with impossibly black hair and a Jean Simmons face smiled at me. “He’ll be right out.” She shrugged apologetically. “He had trouble getting to sleep last night.”
I sniffed the air, pretending to just notice the coffeepot.
“Would you like coffee and toast?” she asked.
“Gee, I dunno. Well, maybe, sure,” I said, rocking my head from shoulder to shoulder.
It was a routine we both knew. I sat down and Helen popped bread into the toaster.
“Frank ready?” I asked.
She shook her head. “He was mumbling in his sleep. Doesn’t remember a thing, he says.” She buttered the toast and handed it to me, with a large mug of coffee.
I took a bite of toast and a swig of the coffee, choosing my words carefully. “We had a tough week,” I started. “A fifteen year old runaway ended up on Jarvis Street. She picked up a john who went too far. We’d been after him for weeks. He didn’t get away with it, but she didn’t make it out alive.”
Helen stared at me for a few seconds. She also chose her words carefully. “He didn’t tell me.” she said softly.
From the back of the house I heard footsteps, and we both put on pleasant smiles.
Frank came out in a blue-black suit, clip-on tie in hand, humming softly. He looked every inch the ex-Green Beret he was. “Five eight and a hundred-sixty pounds of whoop-ass” as he described himself.
He looked at us. “What?” he asked warily.
“Helen says you need more sleep,” I said, not a total lie.
Frank looked at Helen. His eyes narrowed in mild irritation then relaxed. “She’s right. I have to stop watching Carson. He’s funny, but he keeps me awake.”
We all waited patiently as Frank finished breakfast.
By eight-thirty, the sky was overcast and threatening sleet. I finished my toast. Frank swilled the end of his coffee, grabbed a beige trench coat from the hall closet, and threw it over his elbow. He swept his other arm around Helen and pulled her close.
“Will you miss me while I’m gone?” he asked.
She smirked. “I suppose. The mailman and the plumber always ask me the same thing, though.”
“Hah! I keel them. I keel them all,” he barked in a mock-Greek accent. He grabbed an umbrella and poked at the air, like Errol Flynn battling pirates. “Like so.”
He planted a passionate kiss on her lips.
She giggled and shoved him playfully away. “Go to work, you nut,” she said.
I bit my lip poutily. “You know, since he married you, he doesn’t kiss me anymore,” I said in a hurt tone.
Helen laughed out loud and moved forward to kiss me, her lips puckered.
Frank took the bait and stepped between us.
“Time to go,” he said. “Bye, sweetheart.” He pecked her quickly on the mouth and headed for the door.
“Oh. Oh.” She waved at me, remembering something. “We’re having a bake day at the centre. Can I get your carrot cake recipe?”
“Sure.” I shrugged. “Would you prefer for me to bake one instead?”
She smiled. “Would you mind? I’d really appreciate it.”
“My pleasure. Wednesday night?” I thanked her for coffee, and turned to go.
She waved me back. “Take care of him,” she mouthed silently.
I nodded. I shuffled back to the car, dodging the wet snow and puddles in the driveway.
Frank slid into the passenger seat, tossed his coat and umbrella into the back, and opened a Moleskine notebook to the page after the pages with a corner cut off. “Looks like an easy day. We’ve got two kids at Northwestern, hit by a train,” he read.
“Accidents? That’s not our beat,” I said.
I drove north up Keele Street, the gray skies filling the Plymouth’s windshield, on toward Northwestern General Hospital.
Frank looked past me at the traffic streaming downtown. “Kid was crossing the tracks with a buddy. One kid’s in a coma, the other got clipped. He told the doctors they were being chased by some creep and didn’t see the train.”
He looked solemnly at notes on his page. I looked right for a lane change and glanced over at his open book.
Frank’s shorthand was a marvel. This page had a small Ankh icon and a letter X followed by a capital I, his way of noting “boy injured crossing railroad track.”
Northwestern was a large cement block, a dozen stories of pigeonholes, operating rooms and garage space masquerading as a hospital. When I dated Melissa, I’d visited her there after her rounds. A resident’s life was hard, especially for one of the few women in her class.
The hospital was on a hill, looking out over North Toronto. I wheeled into the “police vehicles” spot. Frank jumped out before I stopped.
I caught up to him by the main entrance and let him in first.
He went to the admissions desk, flourished his badge, and nodded at mine. The nurse, a slightly plump woman in her thirties, gawked at the ID and directed us to the elevators. Frank pushed the button and looked around to see we were not being overheard.
He stared at the elevator door, willing it to open. “She’s cute,” he remarked.
I thought about it for a moment. “By cute, you mean big boobs?”
That question surprised him.
“Yeah. Your point?”
We got into the elevator. As if we’d choreographed it, we faced each other, turned ninety degrees more, and faced the door.
“You have a lovely wife at home,” I chided.
He nodded. “I may not buy, but I can window shop.”
The elevator door opened. A nursing station in the corner held two swivel chairs, a rack of clipboards, and a forlorn vase of wilting daisies on the counter.
A lone nurse typed at a Selectric.
“Wait here,” Frank said.
I stood back. He strode to the nurse and displayed his badge. She did a slight double-take. They spoke for a minute. She pointed with her left hand, nodding quickly, then she shook her head and picked up the phone. He nodded me over.
We entered a hall with a sign above it which read “Intensive Care.” Through a leaded-glass window, we saw a child stretched out under a sheet, connected to IV drips and monitors. Beside him, hunched over in prayer, was a slightly overweight man, his suit jacket crumpled on the floor behind his chair. We left him alone and returned to the elevator, then headed down two floors.
We found a ward whose door was propped open, with six beds in two rows.
It smelled of iodine, pine sol, and urine. The bed nearest the window held a small body–a boy around nine years old with a bandaged right foot and a cast on his right arm.
Frank pulled up a plastic chair and slid up next to him. The boy looked over, a mixture of fear and curiosity in his eyes. Frank sat down and smiled, a warm, inviting, relaxing smile. “How ya doin’?” he asked softly. “You must be Victor. You’ve had quite a time, haven’t you?”
Victor nodded. Frank pulled out his badge and offered it to the boy, who reached out his good left hand and held the leather wallet greedily. He rubbed it like a beachcomber rubbing a magic lamp.
“You’re a real detective?” he asked finally. He had a little girl’s voice, all singsong and soft.
Frank nodded. “See,” he explained. “My warrant card has my name and rank. I’m Detective Sergeant Frank Burghezian, and this is Detective Constable Ian McBriar.” He nodded at me.
The boy handed the badge back, reluctantly.
Frank frowned. “Let me ask you. Do you want to be a detective when you grow up?” The boy nodded enthusiastically. “What’s your favourite TV show?” Frank asked.
“I like watching Rocketship Seven. And I like Adam Twelve. And Columbo.”
Frank feigned surprise. “Your parents let you watch Columbo? Wow. I like him, too.” He leaned forward in the chair. “Now, I have to ask you some questions, Okay? You’re not in trouble or anything. We just need to find out what happened.”
The boy nodded, warily.
Frank pulled out his notebook. “Okay,” he started. “You and–” He read his notes. “–Nick Palumbo went over some railroad tracks yesterday. What happened?”
The boy tried to speak without crying. He looked at the notebook sadly. “We didn’t do nothing wrong. Nick said there was this crazy dog, and he could make it bark and jump and stuff. So we go to this back yard.”
“The back yard where this dog lives?”
Victor nodded. “And he was just talking to it, but then the old guy in the house chased us down the street. So we ran, and Nick said, ‘Slow down,’ but I’m faster so I’m way ahead. We get to the tracks, and I keep going. That’s when the train hit us.” He stopped for breath.
Frank looked him squarely in the eye. “Good. Some more questions, Victor. That’s what we do. If you become a detective, you’ll do this, too, okay?”
The boy nodded.
“Why were you running toward the tracks? That’s going away from where you live.”
Victor thought for a moment before answering. “There’s a cool lot on St. Clair Avenue, next to this mattress place, and they got old TVs and sofas and stuff there. We were just going to play jungle. My mom says it’s dangerous, but it’s way more fun than Hughes School field.”
Frank nodded. “You go to Hughes School? Who’s your teacher?”
“Mrs. Cox is our teacher, me and Nick’s.”
“You like her? Is she a nice teacher?”
The boy nodded.
“Where is the house with the dog?” Frank asked casually.
“On Gilbert, where you cross the tracks,” the boy said.
“What does it look like? What color is it?” Frank pressed.
The boy thought for a moment. “It looks kinda like my house. It’s got a door on the side, and it’s beside the lane, and the dog’s house is under the back door.” He stopped for a moment. “We wasn’t hurting the dog. Nick just wanted to play with it.” His eyes teared up. “But then the guy in the house came, started chasing us, so we took off. That’s all. Nick was yelling ‘run, run.’ He was real scared. Then the train came, and we got hit.”
Frank scribbled quickly. “What was the man like, the one who chased you?”
The boy looked up. “He was funny looking. I don’t remember.”
Frank nodded. “Any questions you want to ask me? Anything I can tell your mom and dad?”
Victor stared out the window, then back at Frank. “I’m sorry ’bout Nick and his dad. They said he got hurt real bad. Is that true?”
“He’s going to be okay though, right?” Victor asked.
Frank shrugged. “I’m not a doctor. Just worry about getting yourself better, okay?” he stood to go. “One last thing,” he added, sternly.
The boy shrank back.
“You have been very, very good at describing what happened. You will make a good detective one day. So, to get you started, here’s a badge for you. Just like mine.”
He pulled out a vinyl wallet and handed it to the boy. Inside were a shiny plastic ID card and a plastic badge.
The boy’s eyes widened at the gift. He held it gently, as if pressing too hard might make it vanish. “Thank you,” he gasped softly.
Frank backed away from the bed. “You take care now. If you remember anything else, my business card is behind the badge.” He smiled warmly. “We’ll be back and see you soon, to make sure you’re better.”
We drove to 52 Division for our weekly briefing. I dismissed Frank’s conversation with the nurse and concentrated on work.
He scowled at pedestrians as we drove, checking for suspicious faces. Something was burning him. It was clearly not up for discussion.
I went for a safe topic. “So Chief Adamson will be joining us this morning,” I said, stating the obvious.
Frank slowly smiled. “Should be fun. Captain Hook can tell us how the chief’s pants smell at ass level.”
We drove on in silence till I pulled into the parking lot. Frank jumped out and walked ahead, not looking back.
The sky was gray, and darker than it should be at nine in the morning.
Frank hopped over wet patches in the asphalt, pausing briefly to choose the next step.
A low, flat brick building with anodized aluminum window frames and smoked glass doors, 52 Division was the poster child for bland 1960s architecture. Dark bronze letters on the brick said “Toronto Police Department” and the address.
In the entryway, a terrazzo floor carried through to a waiting area behind the counter and farther on to the detectives’ squad room in back.
Captain Van Hoeke was already talking, pointing to a chalkboard full of notes.
As we entered, he stopped and stared at us. “Ah. If it isn’t the Burger man and Tonto.”
A small laugh rose from the gathered detectives. Frank smiled. “Sorry we’re late,” he explained. “I went for doughnuts.” He pointed at one detective, a lumpy, fortyish man in a wrinkled brown corduroy suit. “Unfortunately, Parker got there first. Carry on, Captain.”
Frank saluted quickly and we sat down on the edge of a desk. Van Hoeke scowled, went back to his blackboard, and read from a crime sheet: robbery at a corner store, assault on a man outside a bank, car theft, bad cheque written at a TV repair shop. As he hit on specific cases, he called on individual officers for an update. Van Hoeke was clearly trying to become Elliot Ness, his bright white shirt and suspenders adding to the image. He was rake thin, a tall, lanky Brit who’d come to this side of “the pond” after shooting down bombers in WW II.
His graying hair, slicked back over a small bald spot, made him look more like the evil butler in a bad movie than a career policeman. His cultivated, pencil-thin Howard Hughes moustache moved before his lips did, giving him an overly emotive face, and he wore heavy wool slacks year round, which hung on his bony hips like towels on a rack.
He used expansive gestures, swinging his arms across the room and poking the end of his finger into the blackboard to show emphasis.
In the corner, frowning slightly and nursing a Styrofoam cup of coffee, sat City of Toronto Police Chief Harold Adamson.
The chief, looking like a hockey coach, smiled and nodded at the appropriate phrases.
Frank leaned over to me and whispered, “Did you ever notice the captain can’t speak when the chief is drinking?”
On cue, the chief took a sip of coffee. Captain Van Hoeke paused and glanced over at him. Frank and I snickered softly. Van Hoeke gave us the look a teacher gives the class troublemakers and went on.
Twenty minutes into the meeting, Chief Adamson glanced at his watch and the captain abruptly wrapped up.
The captain introduced the chief and asked him to give us a few words.
Chief Adamson spoke for about thirty seconds. He thanked us for our good work and told us to keep it up then sat back down to polite applause.
Van Hoeke fired off instructions to the junior staff and ordered the detectives out by ones and twos with their assignments.
Frank and I were now alone in the room with Van Hoeke and the chief.
Chief Adamson stood, deliberately slowly, and strolled over to us. He stuck out his hand. “Good to see you again, Frank.” He smiled. “And you’re Ian McBriar? I’ve heard good things about you. How are you?”
I took his hand. I felt like I was in the principal’s office, but I wasn’t sure why.
The chief nodded. “Captain Van Hoeke tells me you put in good work on that murder the last few weeks. Found the man who’s been slashing prostitutes. Long hours, lots of shoe leather, solid police work. Well done. You both deserve the time off. Frank, you still fish, right?”
Frank gave a plastic smile. “Not since they closed that aquarium.”
The chief chuckled flatly. He turned to me. “Ian, you haven’t seen your father in–Alberta, isn’t it? Good chance to visit him.”
He smiled, a smile that did not go all the way to the eyes. A smile that said “or else.”
I smiled back. “Thanks, sir. He’s in Saskatchewan. We speak on the phone quite often.”
The chief stopped smiling. “Nice again to meet you. Good day.”
He nodded at Captain Van Hoeke and left, office staff parting before him like the Red Sea before Moses, staring after him as he passed.
The captain watched him disappear and turned to us. “Do you know why the chief was talking to you?” he asked, hands on his hips.
“Because he went to university?” Frank deadpanned.
Van Hoeke ignored him. “You two were supposed to take this week off. I told you–I do not want burnouts on my team. He doesn’t either. I need you both fresh and thinking clearly. The chief just told you as much. Go home, both of you.”
He wagged his finger, his Canadian accent slipping into the Cockney slang of his youth.
Frank leaned forward and looked up at Van Hoeke. “Look, I still want to chase down the incident from this morning–the boys hit by a train. Then I’ll go home. Really.”
I looked back and forth between them.
Van Hoeke thought for a moment. He pointed at Frank. “Five o’clock, you two better be watching hockey or drinking or something. Agreed?”
Frank smiled. “Fine–five o’clock I’ll be taking the wife out for dinner, and I’ll let the file sit on my desk until next Monday–promise.”
Van Hoeke nodded. “What exactly are you two up to then?”
Frank told him about the boys in hospital and the house with the dog.
The captain sighed quietly. “Check it out. Know what to do then?”
Frank shrugged. “Capture Tinkerbelle?”
Van Hoeke glowered at him. “Piss off.”
We walked to the car. Frank smiled, looking at his shoes as he walked.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
He chuckled. “Went to university.”
I shook my head. “Clown.”
Gilbert was a short dead end street with small bungalows on one side of the street and a low wire fence on the other side. Beyond the fence is a berm about five feet high with railroad tracks on top.
At a gap in the fence, near the dead end, was a pathway over the tracks, worn smooth and rutted by hundreds of pedestrians cutting across.
We parked just down from the pathway. The house Victor had described was a small bungalow with a pair of bedroom windows and a larger living-dining room window on one floor, beside a short side lane which led to a longer back lane.
It was covered with pale yellow aluminum siding on three walls and soot-stained stucco on the back wall. As Victor had said, a brown wooden door covered by a metal screen door faced the lane. The screen door had a flock of aluminum mallard ducks flying across the lower half, their teal neck paint faded and chipped. It did not seem to have been opened recently. The back yard also faced the side lane and led to a rickety garage. A rough, low wooden fence separated the lane from the yard.
The back door steps sagged to one side. A cinder-block propped them up to roughly level, but it was obvious they wobbled under a load. Frank squatted and found the doghouse under the steps.
It was completely out of place, a crisp coat of dark blue paint on the side panels, cedar shingles on the roof, and a painted faux window on the side. A fluffy plaid pillow protruded from the arched opening. Mangy gray paws hung out.
Frank whistled. The dog raced out, barking wildly. It was some kind of terrier cross, bouncing up and down on its hind legs as it yelped.
He let the dog rant. When it stopped to return to its kennel, Frank woofed deeply. The mutt ran back and barked madly again.
A moment later, the owner stormed out of the house, waving a broom furiously over his head. He was a short, stout man in early middle age, with a crown of thin sandy hair and brass colored glasses.
He looked like Tweedledee, a small pasty ball in cotton shorts, with skinny legs poking into ratty slippers.
The man called to the dog, a sad, moaning voice, almost pleading. “Dixie. Dixie! Go to your home, girl. Go.” He turned toward us. “Get out! Get away! Leave her alone,” he screamed.
He charged Frank with the broom, waving it in front of him. Frank stood back from the fence, just out of reach. The man got to the fence, still swinging. Frank stepped forward just before the next swing, caught the handle in his left hand, and pulled it back.
The broom slipped harmlessly behind him, popping out of the fat man’s hands and clattering to the laneway.
“We’re police officers,” Frank sneered. He held his badge out. “We want to ask you some questions.”
The man stared past us, at nothing in particular. “Go away. I don’t want to talk to you. Go away,” he said, his voice softer and softer.
He shoved Frank in the chest. Frank’s hand came up fast, grabbed the man’s wrist, and rotated out. The man’s arm bent unnaturally away from his body, his back curving out to follow it. He stared at Frank, but still seemed to be thinking of something else.
Frank glared back, sizing him up for a fight.
The man melted at the visual assault. Frank slowly let the fat man’s arm go.
Something seemed odd. I touched Frank’s shoulder and he stared at me, ready to hit me.
“What’s your name?” I asked, gently.
The fat man rubbed his arm, surprised by the question. “Gary.”
Frank moved his arms as if playing an accordion. “Gary…”
Gary nodded. “Gary Hrojic.” He spelled it and Frank wrote it down.
“Gary,” I started. “Do you live alone?”
The fat man seemed offended by this. “I can be alone. I’m old enough.”
Frank gave him a puzzled look. “How old are you?”
Gary thought about this, pinching his thumbs and forefingers in a link in front of him. “Forty two?”
I nodded, mentally confirming something. “Gary, could we come in and talk?”
© 2012 by Mauro Azzano
Monday, January 3, 2013: Shelly Civkin of Shelly’s Blog calls The Dead Don’t Dream a Winner.
She says: “Author Azzano skillfully fleshes out his characters and makes them, above all, believable. As for the storyline, it’s well plotted, engaging, and the parts that need to achieve resolution by the end, do so. It’s pretty clear that Azzano is planning to turn this into a series – why else would he have a big bubble on the front cover announcing: “An Ian McBriar Murder Mystery”? I hope he does write more and I look forward to hearing about the blossoming romance between Ian and Karen. Oh yeah, and the mystery parts, too. For mystery fans, The Dead Don’t Dream is a winner.” READ FULL REVIEW